Watch out Modi-Shah! Nitish Kumar can easily be Bihar's MufflerMan

Aditya Menon
Aditya MenonFeb 21, 2015 | 13:30

Watch out Modi-Shah! Nitish Kumar can easily be Bihar's MufflerMan

Even when most political parties had dismissed Arvind Kejriwal as a political upstart, one of the few politicians who had a different point of view on him was Nitish Kumar. Kumar was unequivocal in his support of the Anna Hazare agitation in 2011. His party, the Janata Dal (United), supported and even campaigned for Kejriwal when he contested against Narendra Modi in Varanasi in 2014. And even in the recent Assembly elections in Delhi, the Janata Parivar supported the AAP in all the seats except Najafgarh where their candidate gave AAP a tough fight. Having been part of the JP movement as well as VP Singh's anti-corruption movement, Kumar knows the importance of being on the correct side of mass movements.

Nitish Kumar with Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal in June 2011

When Jitan Ram Manjhi resigned as Bihar chief minister just hours before his trust vote in the Assembly today, it was a big victory for Kumar as he triumphed over the rebellion within his own party as well as the BJP's alleged attempts to break the JD(U). But instead of gloating over his victory, Kumar chose to do a Kejrwal: He apologised to the people of Bihar for resigning from the job they gave him with a resounding mandate in 2005 and again in 2010.

"With folded hands, I apologise to the people of Bihar. Never again will I take such a step. I am ready to lead from the front," Kumar said. It isn't just the apology so much so as Kumar needs to take many more leaves out of the MufflerMan's book if he is to stop the Modi-Amit Shah rath from entering Bihar.

Consolidating the non-BJP vote

If one were to rely on pure arithmetic, Kumar is actually in a better position than Kejriwal was. The AAP's 67/70 victory in Delhi was propelled by a nearly 23 per cent swing of votes in its favour, from the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and a 14 per cent swing against the BJP. Kumar doesn't need such a dramatic turnaround. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP which fought in alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party and Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, secured 38.80 per cent of the votes in Bihar. The RJD, Congress and NCP fought in alliance and secured 29.70 per cent of the votes, while the JD (U) fought alone and got 15.80 per cent. If you add the vote share of the JD(U) and the RJD-Congress-NCP alliance it comes out to be 44.30 per cent, which is comfortably ahead of the BJP-led alliance. Add to this the 1.50 per cent of votes secured by the Left Parties, the lead increases even further.


April-May 2014 Lok Sabha elections

 Combined Vote Share
BJP + LJP + RLSP38.80 per cent
JD(U) + RJD + Congress + NCP*44.30 per cent

*RJD, Congress and NCP were in alliance. JD(U) fought separately.

Of course, one must note that when parties fight in alliance, their vote share decreases as they contest lesser number of seats.

But the lesson here is that if Nitish Kumar is able to consolidate the non-BJP votes, he can defeat the BJP by a comfortable margin, just as AAP did in Delhi where the Congress was reduced to irrelevance.

This is precisely what Kumar and his friend-turned-foe-turned-friend Lalu Prasad did in the by-elections to ten Assembly seats in August last year. By joining forces, JD(U) , RJD and Congress wrested five seats from the BJP, barely three months after the BJP's sweep in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP had held nine out of these 10 seats. Even if one added the RJD, JD(U) and Congress vote shares in these seats in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP led alliance was still leading in eight segments. So not only a consolidation of non-BJP votes, there was a 4.6 per cent swing in favour of the Nitish-Lalu alliance and a five per cent swing against the BJP that led to this victory.


August 2014 by-elections for ten seats

 Vote Share (2014 Lok Sabha)Assembly segments led (2014 Lok Sabha)Vote Share September bypoll)Assembly seats won
BJP + LJP45.30 per cent837.30 per cent4
JD(U) + RJD + Congress40.30 per cent244.90 per cent6

Nitish Kumar versus "[?]"

Even though there were murmurs in the past few months that Kumar would replace Manjhi, it was the AAP's victory in Delhi that made him realise that he has no option but to "lead from the front". The Kejriwal wave in Delhi and Modi's victory in the Lok Sabha elections, showed that politics has become increasingly personality-centric. Kumar is unarguably the tallest leader in Bihar. He has a good record as an administrator; his refusal to accept Modi as the BJP's candidate and the subsequent fallout bolstered his popularity among the Muslim community in the state who account for 16.50 per cent of the electorate in the state and are likely to be solidly behind the Kumar's alliance. In comparison, the BJP doesn't have a leader who can match up to Kumar and Lalu Prasad. Sushil Modi has a good image but being from the Vaishya community, projecting him as CM might not go down well with the BJP's Brahmin, Bhumihar and Thakur leaders. Already one can see the beginning of some resentment in the BJP regarding the domination of the mercantile community in the party.

In Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand the BJP got away with not projecting a CM candidate because they were up against a feeble opposition. In Delhi, the BJP started with a Modi-centric campaign, changed strategies mid-way by projecting lateral entrant Kiran Bedi, and had to bite the dust in the end.

Nitish Kumar has understood this. And this is why he decided to "lead from the front" in Bihar, even if it meant junking the caste arithmetic that made him install Manjhi, a Mahadalit, as chief minister.

Of course, it won't be all smooth sailing for Kumar. He is battling ten years of anti-incumbency and now as a partner of the RJD, he will have the additional baggage of 15 years of misrule by Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi. The BJP represents a vote for change in Bihar, like Kejriwal did in Delhi.

But the Delhi elections and the Bihar by-elections earlier, exposed a major chink in the BJP's armour: That the party's invincibility is only against an opposition that is divided and discredited.

By projecting a strong leader and consolidating non-BJP votes, the Modi-Shah machinery can be defeated. This is the "Kejriwal formula" that Nitish Kumar will try to repeat in Bihar.

Last updated: February 21, 2015 | 13:30
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